Letter to the Elders of the Church, 2 October 1835
JS, Letter, [, Geauga Co., OH], to “the elders of the church of Latter Day Saints,” [2 Oct. 1835]. Featured version published in “To the Elders of the Church of Latter Day Saints,” Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Sept. 1835, 1:179–182. For more complete source information, see the source note for Letter to Oliver Cowdery, Dec. 1834.
This letter to the elders of the church was the first in a three-part series of open letters published in the September, November, and December 1835 issues of the church’s newspaper, the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. The letters instructed the church’s increasingly large and sophisticated missionary force, which by that time included apostles and seventies. The three-part missive reminded them of essential doctrine, such as the establishment of and the gathering of Israel, and provided specific direction to help them succeed in spreading the church’s message. Instruction for traveling elders in the form of open letters such as this one appeared occasionally in the church’s periodicals.
In this letter, JS described the revelation that identified , Jackson County, Missouri, as the central gathering place for a latter-day Zion. He acknowledged that this revelation had generated anxiety among Missourians and that the resulting migration of some 1,200 Mormons to western Missouri compounded the unease, culminating in the violent expulsion of Latter-day Saints from in November 1833. JS attempted to clarify the history of the Saints’ settlement in Jackson County and contextualized the revelations and doctrines concerning Zion. He lamented that the Saints’ intentions in settling Jackson County had been distorted by “designing and wicked men” and that the Saints’ own outspoken zealousness regarding the doctrine of gathering had worsened relations in that county. The letter also referred to several New Testament passages to emphasize the duty the elders had to teach the church’s basic doctrines—faith, repentance, remission of sins, and baptism.
JS wrote this first installment on 2 October and submitted it to editor , who published it shortly thereafter in the September issue of the Messenger and Advocate, which was then behind schedule. The original letter is no longer extant. JS dictated the second letter of the series six weeks later, on 16 November 1835.
JS, Journal, 2 Oct. 1835. It appears that in late summer and fall 1835, issues of the Messenger and Advocate were being published about a month later than the dates found in the masthead. For instance, the August issue of the periodical was published sometime after 1 September, since it contained an obituary of Mary Hill stating that she died “on Tuesday, (the 1st of Sept.)” The September issue featured JS’s 2 October letter. The October Messenger and Advocate contained letters dated 6 and 7 November 1835, indicating that issue was not published until after those dates. (Obituary for Mary Hill, LDS Messenger and Advocate, Aug. 1835, 1:176; L. T. Coons, 6 Nov. 1835, Letter to the Editor, and Noah Packard, 7 Nov. 1835, Letter to the Editor, LDS Messenger and Advocate, Oct. 1835, 2:207, 208.)
Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.
After so long a time, and after so many things having been said, I feel it my duty to drop a few hints, that, perhaps, the elders, traveling through the world to warn the inhabitants of the earth to flee the wrath to come, and save themselves from this untoward generation, may be aided in a measure, in doctrine, and in the way of their duty. I have been laboring in this cause for eight years, during which time I have traveled much, and have had much experience. I removed from , N. Y. to , Ohio, in February, 1831.
Having received, by an heavenly vision, a commandment, in June following, to take my journey to the western boundaries of the State of , and there designate the very spot, which was to be the central spot, for the commencement of the together of those who embrace the fulness of the everlasting gospel—I accordingly undertook the journey with certain ones of my brethren, and, after a long and tedious journey, suffering many privations and hardships, I arrived in Missouri; and, after viewing the country, seeking diligently at the hand of God, he manifested himself unto me, and designated to me and others, the very spot upon which he designed to commence the work of the gathering, and the upbuilding of an holy city, which should be called :—Zion because it is to be a place of righteousness, and all who build thereon, are to worship the true and living God—and all believe in one doctrine even the doctrine of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. [p. 179]
JS here equated the beginning of “this cause” with the translation of the Book of Mormon. Elsewhere he stated that on 22 September 1827 he obtained a set of gold plates upon which was written an ancient record in an unknown language and that he began the work of translating that record, which would be known as the Book of Mormon, shortly thereafter. (See “Joseph Smith Documents Dating through June 1831.”)
JS and others left Kirtland, Ohio, on 19 June 1831 and arrived at Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, on 14 July 1831. (JS History, vol. A-1, 126; [William W. Phelps], “Extract of a Letter from the Late Editor,” Ontario Phoenix [Canandaigua, NY], 7 Sept. 1831, ; Gilbert, Notebook, –.)
Ontario Phoenix. Canandaigua, NY. 1828–1832.
Gilbert, Algernon Sidney. Notebook of Revelations, 1831–ca. 1833. Revelations Collection, 1831–ca. 1844, 1847, 1861, ca. 1876. CHL. MS 4583, box 1, fd. 2.